Trumbull baseball inexperienced, but still eye another playoff run

It’s obvious that there’s a winning tradition with the Trumbull High School baseball team. Playing in the FCIAC championship game the past three seasons, the Eagles have been a fixture when it comes to postseason baseball.

But THS did graduate 11 players from last year’s roster and there are several question marks when it comes to how far the Eagles can soar this season. However, head coach Phil Pacelli and the rest of the Trumbull baseball team still has its trademark high expectations for this season.

“I think they are confident and realize they have some big shoes to fill, but they are a good group of kids that think they could do the same as last year,” Pacelli said. “If they buy into the win the week theory, work hard and play the way they are capable of, anything is possible.”

To say Trumbull has seen success during the postseason is an understatement. The team won the FCIAC championship in 2012 when they beat Greenwich. The past two years the Eagles were FCIAC runners-up, falling to Danbury in 2013 and to Fairfield Warde High School last year.

As the No. 10 seeded team in the CIAC class LL postseason last year, Trumbull upended Westhill High School in 10 innings 3-2 to start its tournament run. The Eagles went on to upset No. 7 seeded Xavier 5-2 before falling once against to Warde in the class LL quarters 5-1.

“I think they believe in themselves and know what is expected,” Pacelli said. “We want to get into FCIACs. If we win each week, it will happen. As long as you get one of the eight seeds, anything could happen. We are proof of that on both ends. When we won in 2012, we were seeded seventh and the last two years we lost as the higher seeds. But it doesn’t get old playing at Harbor Yard. It’s been three years in a row for us in the finals. Although we lost in the finals the past two years, I think I can find a lot of teams that would love to trade places with us.”

While the expectations are still high, the road will be a little more challenging.

After the loss in the class LL playoffs to the Mustangs, Trumbull lost a plethora of talent to graduation. Chris Masi, Colin Keyes, Jake Levison, Liam Moors, Matt DeRienzo, Connor and Ryan Broderick, Zach Sagar, Avery Santos, Matt Baccaro and Billy Stickle, all key players in the recent success of the Eagles, played their final game for the team.

This season, Trumbull has two players back from last year’s team that saw any significant varsity experience.

“We have a good team and I think we are very talented,” THS senior Carlos Garrido said. “We don’t have a lot of experience, but I think our talent is going to overcome that. We have a lot of seniors and a bunch of talented juniors, so that’s going to help us a lot.”

Garrido, a returning catcher, and senior right fielder Matt Fasoli are going to be looked upon for their experience at the varsity level.

“Those two are going to have to produce and show the younger guys the way to do things, day in and day out,” Pacelli said. “We have a lot of inexperienced players. They are good and I think we will be okay but we could have some bumps in the road and some growing pains early on to work through. It should be expected, but I tell the guys that if you win the week, winning two of the three games, we will be where we want to be in the end.”

In addition to Garrido, seniors Frank Puglia and Brian Hnatuk will be the team’s captains this season.

“Although a lot of the juniors and seniors this year didn’t play in those championship games, they still know what it feels like to be in a big stage,” Garrido said. “I don’t think nerves will get to us this year. We have high expectations and everybody here believes that we are going to make it far. I plan on bringing a lot of leadership and discipline. One of the things I believe in a lot is the defensive part of the game. If you don’t have defense, you can’t win games.”

While Garrido will be used for his experience at the varsity level and his talent behind the plate, Hnatuk will be one of the team’s leaders on the mound.

During its FCIAC tournament run, Trumbull used a bunch of its pitching to get to the championship game and needed quality pitching for the class LL opener against the Vikings. That’s where Hnatuk came in and threw eight scoreless innings of relief to key his team to victory.

Puglia, a favorite amongst the players, coaches and fans, will also be on the mound for the Eagles this season and will be expected to give the team a bunch of quality starts.

“On and off the field, we had some pretty good captains the past couple of years. I think they learned a lot from those guys and will pass on what they learned to the team this year.”

Playing first base this season will be senior Connor Smith and he will also do a little pitching. Competing at the hot corner will be junior Kris DiCocco, while Garrido will be the team’s main man behind the plate.

Shortstop and second base are still up in the air, but Pacelli hopes to have that ironed out by the opening week of the season.

In the outfield, junior Chris O’Brien will patrol left field when he’s not on the mound for THS. Senior Marcus Nieves will start at center, while Fasoli will be a mainstay at right field, but also be a reliever for the pitching staff.

“We are still trying to figure out the middle infielders, but based on who is pitching I think you can see a lot of different lineups with us. We are pretty deep on the mound and on the bench. I am confident with any of these guys going out there really.”

When it comes to pitchers, Trumbull has that covered and then some. In addition to O’Brien, Smith, Fasoli and Hnatuk, the Eagles will also look to seniors Nico Principi, Jon Uber, Brian Gibbs, as well as juniors Joe Nemcheck and Dan Keckler.

“We have some depth out there on the mound, so it’s a matter of who is throwing strikes,” Pacelli said. “That’s the name of the game. It’s going to be a short hook for everybody because if I see two walks in a row, I’m going to get someone up. We aren’t going to sit back and watch someone walk the ballpark when we have several guys that might be throwing strikes on the bench.”

In order to be successful, Pacelli said that it’s all about the basics for the Eagles this season.

“If you have good pitching and good defense, you are in every game,” the head coach said. “I think we have both of those and I expect the pitching and defense to be our strength. I am hoping the bats come around at the end.”